David's Review Corner
, December 2007
Oberto was Verdi's first opera composed at the age of 26, and though it was soon to drop from the repertoire - it was not staged in London until 1982 - it received the status of a premiere in Milan's La Scala and there showed the theatre's impresario sufficient potential for him to commission Verdi to write another three. It had taken the young composer four years to complete, with two librettists working on the story. Stylistically it sets the scene for almost every Verdi opera that was to follow, and there are sufficient good arias to interest any impresario. It is a typical drama of the time, the young seduced girl, Leonora, jilted in favour of another and is now looking for revenge on the eve of her lover's marriage. The planned wife, Cuniza, finds the truth just in time, and sets to help in the revenge both women wish on the adulterer, Riccardo. Leonora's father, Oberto, also seeking revenge for the insult to his family, finally catches up with Riccardo but is fatally wounded in their fight. So everyone ends up totally unhappy and the deranged Leonora chooses suicide. In today's passion for everything that came from Verdi, Oberto is once again on the menu. Here, in what promises to be a complete Verdi cycle taking place over the next 15 years, we have a'traditional' production from the opera house in Bilbao. The backdrop comes from big stage sets and dress that capture a time supposedly in 13th century Italy. Vocally the cast is strong though visually the comparative age of the performers has little resemblance to the story. The big and imposing tenor, Carlo Ventre, makes a suitably powerful Riccardo whose bluff personality shows little sense of remorse for the hurt he brings to those around him, while Ildar Abdrazakov as his adversary, Oberto, has a suitably dark bass voice and a strong stage presence. Marianne Cornetti's Cunzia would strike fear into any man, her well-focused mezzo voice potent in the second act. But it is Evelyn Herlitzius as Leonora who steals the whole performance, her acting a little over the top in the final mad scene, but powerful in vocal projection and well able to respond to Verdi's technical demands. For a number of years I have been following the career of Yves Abel and with every performance he impresses me as one of today's most promising opera conductors. He is an instinctive Verdian who knows exactly the pulse and shape of the music. In the fine orchestra the company has its main asset, the playing throughout is responsive and, at the appropriate points, assertive. As the project progresses the make-up people will get to grips with the requirements of the close-ups needed for video purposes, and the engineers will fix back-up microphones to cover the problems experienced in the second act. That just leaves the booklet writer to give us biographies of artists who are not yet household names. In the meantime I guess we are not going to be inundated with Oberto on DVDs, and I greatly value this addition to my Verdi collection.